Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Riser
Another week, another attempt by BP to plug the massive oil leak at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. This time they're trying to use a containment dome to stop the oil from getting in the water (this one is called 'Top Hat 10' and should allow a tighter fit). The latest reports are that the top hat is only a few feet from where is needs to be, and that this time, if all goes well, it could allow the capture of pretty much all the oil. But after some many failed attempts, let's not hold our breath... Read on for more details.
Doug Suttles, the company's chief operating officer, said that once the new cap was connected, systems that have been collecting some of the escaping oil would be shut down and valves on the new cap would be closed to stop the flow. Pressure readings would then be taken to determine the condition of the well.
If the tests show the pressure rising and holding -- an indication that there was no significant damage along the length of the well bore, which extends 13,000 feet below the sea floor -- the valves could remain closed, effectively ending the three-month gusher. (source)
But if the pressure is too high or too low, this means problem. A lower-than-expected pressure could mean that there are problems with the integrity of the well underground, and this would be very bad indeed. If this happens, the valves will have to be re-opened and the current way to capture only a fraction of the oil will have to be used until the relief well is done or until a new method of plugging the leak can be tried.
An AP report this morning said that Top Hat 10 was about 300 feet from where it needed to be, and another report by the New York Times said that the top hat was about 5 feet horizontally and 150 feet vertically from the interception point. That might not seem like much, but considering how complex and delicate this operation is, it could take a while longer before it's over, and a while after that to be sure if the pressure is ok.
What's likely to happen is that the cap will be installed late today, and pressure tests will be done for at least 2 days. Stay tuned.
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